Extensive research from around the world suggests that being a professional footballer carries a higher risk of developing dementia or certain neurodegenerative diseases. One of the most recent studies, conducted on the Spanish population, was led by researchers from Clínic-IDIBAPS. Her findings suggest that being a professional soccer player predisposes to REM sleep disorder and, therefore, can progress towards dementia. The study concluded that among people with this type of sleep disorder, there is a higher percentage of professional football players, compared to the general population.
This work was coordinated by Dr Alex Iranzo, Neurologist at Hospital Clinic Barcelona and Head of the Clinical Neurophysiology Group at IDIBAPS, and has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Patients with REM sleep disorders have rigid motor behaviors during sleep, nightmares, and a lack of muscle relaxation. This disorder particularly affects men over the age of 50.
Previously, Dr. Iranzo and his team had discovered that REM sleep behavior disorder is the first manifestation of certain neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease or Lewy body dementia. In both cases they are entities characterized by the accumulation of alpha-synuclein protein deposits. On the other hand, this sleep disorder is also associated with external risk factors related to the onset of neurodegenerative diseases, such as head injuries.
Professional soccer players have a 50% chance of suffering a concussion
Soccer is possibly the most popular sport in the world, with over 38 million United Soccer players playing in practically every country on the planet. As a sport, it has clear health benefits at the motor and cardiorespiratory level, but at the same time it also produces, at the professional level, many injuries to the lower extremities and the head. A revealing fact states that professional soccer players have a 50% chance of suffering a concussion over the course of their career, if it exceeds ten years.
The explanation for this phenomenon, according to Eranzo, “In contact sports, repeated exposure to head blows can lead to progressive neuronal loss or buildup of alpha-synuclein protein deposits. This is a possible explanation for why professional athletes can develop various types of neurodegenerative diseases in football and other contact sports several decades after retirement.” In the report published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the behaviors of patients who were treated at the Sleep Disorders Center of the Clinique Neurology Service between March 1994 and March 2022 were analyzed. The aim was to find out how many of these patients with REM sleep disorders were professional football players.
During the study, 338 people were diagnosed with REM sleep disorder, of which 228 were Spanish men. Of these, 34% developed a neurodegenerative disease after a seven-year follow-up period. Of the 228 men, six (2.63%) were professional soccer players and had developed a career-long career average of 13 years. Between the time he retired from football and his REM sleep disorder diagnosis, nearly 40 years passed.
The study group was compared with a control group also consisting of 228 men of the same age, as it was found that none of them were professional soccer players. The study group was also compared with the general population, and it was noted that 0.062% were professional soccer players. These data show that there was a higher percentage of professional soccer players in the group with REM sleep disorder, compared to the control group and the general population (2.63% vs 0% vs 0.062%). At the time of diagnosis, all soccer players who withdrew from the study group had disease biomarkers related to alpha-synuclein deposits and Five of them developed Parkinson’s disease or dementia with Lewy bodies Four years after being diagnosed with REM sleep disorder and 44 years after retirement.
According to lex Iranzo, “The association between neurodegenerative diseases and head injuries leads us to speculate that in retired soccer players in our study group, repeated exposure to blows to the head may be one of the factors that contributed to the onset of REM sleep disorder and thus to Parkinson’s disease and the dementia“.
The prestigious scientific journal The Lancet published other conclusions The study was conducted in a group of professional and amateur soccer players who played at least one match in the Swedish top flight between 1924 and 2019. In total, 6,007 footballers participated, including 510 goalkeepers. The risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, was higher among soccer players than among general population controls, and higher among outfield players than goalkeepers. However, in this study, it was observed that motor neuron degenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s, were equal or less common in soccer players than in the general population.
In the same vein, the results of a study conducted by the University of Glasgow are outlined. Former professional soccer players are most likely to die of a neurodegenerative condition such as dementia or the Parkinson’s disease of the general population, according to this study, which adds that the cumulative effect of a head ballhead could be related to traumatic brain injury. The research compared the death records of 7,676 men who played professional football in Scotland between 1900 and 1976 with 23,000 age-selected records from the general population. The report details that, compared to the general population, the former soccer players in this study were five times more likely to be injured Alzheimer’s disease And twice, probably Parkinson’s disease. On the plus side, soccer players were less likely to die from other common illnesses, such as heart disease and some types of illnesses cancerincluding Lung Cancer.
It should be borne in mind that most patients with REM sleep disorders are not football players, and most professional football players do not develop neurodegenerative diseases. Furthermore, due to the variability of results between studies, more studies with more definitive designs are still needed to reach conclusive conclusions. However, determining whether a retired football player has REM sleep disorder can help identify a population at risk for a possible underlying neurodegenerative disease.
PortalCLNIC is a project of the Hospital Clinic and the BBVA Foundation. The information in the article has been prepared in collaboration with PortalClínic, from the Clínic de Barcelona Hospital and has been documented by health professionals.